It’s not often that an Icelandic rapper makes his US TV debut on a major network series — but it makes perfect sense to Stony Blyden, co-starring opposite Jimmy Smits on NBC’s new legal drama “Bluff City Law.”
“I’m a huge fan of shows that tend to lean on fighting injustice. I think that’s beautiful,” says Blyden, 26, born Thorsteinn Sindri Baldvinsson Blyden. “What we’re doing [on the show] is advocating for the smaller individual against the larger corporation — sort of this David and Goliath situation.”
Premiering Monday at 10 p.m. and set in Memphis, Tenn., “Bluff City Law” follows an elite law firm helmed by father-daughter duo Elijah (Smits, “NYPD Blue,” “The West Wing”) and Sydney Strait (Caitlin McGee, “Grey’s Anatomy”) that specializes in controversial civil rights cases.
The first episode follows a class action lawsuit against a chemical company that failed to disclose the harmful impact of its product, possibly resulting in cancer for several employees. Blyden’s character, Emerson Howe, is a paralegal working for the firm with a secret connection to the family’s past. He provides a key breakthrough on the case.
“Having people who are accountable be held accountable was a big selling point for me,” says Blyden, who watched Julie Roberts as a crusading environmental activist in “Erin Brockovich” to prepare for his role.
Blyden got his start in his native Iceland as a rapper, studying music in college, uploading videos to YouTube, and starring in an international Pepsi commercial during the World Cup when he was 19. His music has appeared on MTV’s “Wild N’Out,” Hulu’s announcement of its “Seinfeld” streaming launch, and on Nickelodeon’s “Hunter Street,” on which he also starred.
“I was born and raised in Reykavic. That’s where my whole family is at this point,” says Blyden, who speaks in unaccented English. “Then, when I was about 20, I decided to move to LA to give it a shot, and now we’re here. I kind of started really getting into [English] when I was 12 or 13. I speak it with my mom, who’s originally from Cuba. And also one of the few programs we had were ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld,’ ” he says, singling out “Friends” character Chandler Bing, played by Matthew Perry.
“I would watch that religiously and learned English from those shows.” he says. “Everything to do with sarcasm and how to interact in America — that’s from Chandler.”
Emerson marks Blyden’s first “adult” on-screen role.
“This is my first time playing anyone over 17,” he says. “I did the Nickelodeon thing [‘Hunter Street’] for a few years. I was 15 on that. I was 17 on ‘The Edge of Seventeen.’ It’s always been ‘under 17.’ I can actually grow a ’stache for this role! It’s fantastic.”
Blyden, who’s been shooting “Bluff City Law” in Memphis for two months, says he considers the city home, for now. “The music is fantastic and the food is too good,” he says. “I grew up studying soul music and jazz and blues. To be in the birthplace of those things feels very special.”